The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in December of 1531 is perhaps the most extraordinary and captivating event in the history of North America. The series of meetings immediately brought about the mass conversion of Aztecs to the Catholic faith, something that the conquering Spanish monarchy, with its armies and missionaries, couldn’t do. The power that moved the Mexican people of that time fully into the Church was not wealth or violence but love, expressed gently in tender conversations between two faith-filled and humble people.
Juan Diego’s tilma remains more than 500 years later as proof of that meeting. The tilma is made of cactus fiber, which should have deteriorated long ago, and it bears Our Lady’s self-portrait, made with pigments that can’t be found on this earth. In Mary’s eyes, one expert has discovered a snapshot of everyone else in Bishop Zumarraga’s office as Juan Diego opened his tilma. The saint opened his tilma to deliver the Castillian roses that the Lady handpicked for the bishop as the sign that he had requested, but unbeknownst to him, Juan Diego revealed a heavenly portrait that spoke eloquently then and still does today. Perhaps those who could understand the meanings conveyed by the range of symbols in that self-portrait were the Aztecs. Today, the pro-life movement sees an urgent message in it for its cause. And, as an artist, I find in the tilma a rich message that communicates to me wordlessly but I cannot fully articulate that message in words. I feel it in my heart, but the words elude me whenever I attempt to speak it.
For a truly breath-taking telling of that beautiful meeting one December long ago, visit www.mirandapro.com to order, “The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas,” by C.L. Walsh and illustrated with the paintings of Jorge Sanchez Hernandez.
Here are some of my photos from the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City, Mexico.